In his first 18 months as Peace Corps director, Paul D. Coverdell visited his home town of Atlanta 19 times and appeared eight times in five other cities in Georgia during trips paid in full or in part by the government.

In addition, the Peace Corps paid part of Coverdell's travel either to or from Atlanta on five other trips during which he spent the weekend at his house there, according to travel records obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

In all, 26 of the 45 domestic trips Coverdell made as director in that period took him to Georgia at some point, prompting widespread speculation in the agency that the veteran Georgia politician intends to run for office in Georgia.

In a lengthy interview, Coverdell did not rule out a run for office, saying he could not predict the future, but he insisted that the trips were proper and an essential part of his new policies. "I say you do one job at a time," he said. "You do the job you have; you do it as best you can."

One of his priorities, Coverdell said, is to make sure that an agency long dominated by predominantly white volunteers from the East Coast, upper Midwest and West Coast becomes better balanced geographically and ethnically. That has required extensive travel in the South, he said, where "they know little of Peace Corps."

"I have been driving myself through the South," Coverdell said, "to involve {southerners and minorities} in Peace Corps." Many of the Atlanta trips were taken, he added, "because it is the home seat of so much of the minority population of the country."

The percentage of minorities working in the Peace Corps has increased from less than 7 percent in 1988 to about 10 percent this year, agency officials said.

In his first 18 months, Coverdell has crisscrossed the country to visit 26 states in all, talking about the Peace Corps, raising money for the programs and working with elementary schools and colleges to set them up. Coverdell said another reason he has traveled so frequently to Georgia and elsewhere has been to emphasize, more than his predecessors did, the Peace Corps' third stated goal: educating Americans about the world.

One of his programs, World Wise Schools, links elementary schoolchildren with volunteers overseas in a pen-pal relationship, while the agency provides materials about the volunteers' countries to assist teachers. A second program, expanding one begun at Columbia Teachers College five years ago, assists returning volunteers in getting graduate degrees from cooperating universities if they agree to teach in local school systems.

Coverdell's supporters say he visits Georgia often because he knows people there who can help him set up programs. Two of the first eight universities involved in the Peace Corps Fellows program are in Georgia and the third is at Auburn University in Alabama, just across the border from Columbus, Ga.

Coverdell said he gets many requests to speak in the Atlanta area and throughout Georgia, and many of the trips have included speeches to high schools or colleges. Other trips have included speeches about the Peace Corps to groups as diverse as the Georgia officials of the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service meeting in Savannah, graduates of the federal Law Enforcement Academy in Brunswick and the Georgia chapters of the Public Relations Society of America.

Coverdell has kept his house in Atlanta, where his wife works as an airline flight attendant. He has an apartment in the Washington area.

The vast majority of his trips to Georgia have required him to leave Washington Thursday evening or Friday and leave Atlanta Monday. On several visits to Atlanta, Coverdell also found time for politics while doing Peace Corps business, speaking to the Georgia State GOP convention, the Fulton County (Atlanta) Republican Party and a fund-raiser for a Republican congressional candidate in Atlanta.

He also accompanied President Bush on a campaign swing to Atlanta in October on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Johnny Isakson, and went with Bush to Brunswick, Ga., when Bush spoke at the federal law enforcement training center. And Coverdell hitched a ride on Air Force Two last April with Vice President Quayle when Quayle went to Atlanta on a fund-raising trip. Coverdell did not stay in Atlanta to campaign, but went on to Florida on Peace Corps business.

Coverdell, through a spokesman, said that the events with a "direct political tone" were not "instigated or sought," but he was invited because of his former political position.

Coverdell said the five weekend trips -- taking him through Atlanta either from or to an official trip -- were nonpolitical. "I went home for the weekend. There is no {political} event going on," he said through a spokesman.

This map shows the number of official appearances made by Peace Corps Director Paul D. Coverdell in th United States from May 18,1989, to Oct. 15, 1990. In several cases Coverdell visited a state only once, but went to more than one city. Only appearances paid for by the Peace Corps or federal government are included.

Atlanta.........19

Athens.......... 2

Brunswick....... 1

Columbus........ 2

Milledgeville... 1

Savannah........ 1